Sunday, April 8, 2012

Fitting Training into Life

  When talking with athletes about training for an event, whether its completing their first 5K race or doing an Ironman, a major concern is how will it effect their life. They do not want to have to put so much time and effort into something that they miss out on other aspects of their life, mainly their friends and family.
  The first and most important thing I tell them is to consider how much time it will take to train for their race. Many times someone who has a goal of running a 5K feels they do not have the time, with family, work, etc, to train. Their reference many times is a friend who races marathons (not 5K's) all the time and how much time they train. Or they hear how much a college athlete trains and tells themselves there is no way they can dedicate that much time to training. If your goal is to complete your first 5K, you don't have to commit the same amount of time. 
   If your goal is to do an Ironman, that will take a much larger time commitment and will take a lot of time away from your family and friends. You will have to evaluate if you are willing to commit this time. I encourage everyone to live an active life, but not at the expense of your happiness or your families.
   To fit your training into your everyday life does not mean that you have to separate them. Encourage your significant other or friends to workout with you or do the same race. It will give you an opportunity to spend time with them. If you have children, get a running stroller. If they are older, have them go for a bike ride while you jog. You could do a 30 minute run while they bike at a pace you can chat with them (you can even do this with your significant other if they are willing to bike while you run). It will be a good pace for you to build some miles and spend time with your children. At the same time they get some exercise in as well. Get up early on a Saturday or a Sunday, get a workout in and then come home and make pancakes (or whatever your favorite breakfast is) for you and your kids. You will enjoy the breakfast and time with your family. 
   It is possible to fit training into your everyday life. Evaluate your goals and your time, but be honest with yourself. For the amount of time you can devote to training each week should not be any more then what you can do for 48-50 of the 52 weeks out of the year without having to make major sacrifices or changes to your life. When you train, to get the time in, be creative. Maybe there is a way you can train and spend time with your friends and family. 

Swimming Tips

I have recently been receiving a lot of questions on training for triathlons and the number one concern for most triathletes is, “how do I improve my swim to reach my goals.” To evaluate this, one first needs to be clear on their goals. If you do not have clear defined goals, then it will be difficult to structure your workouts to obtain them and you may end up swimming endless yards without a clear purpose. Always be aware, goals will vary from athlete to athlete. An athlete who is trying to complete their first triathlon and has little to no swimming experience will have different workouts than an athlete who is trying to improve their swim to move up in their age-group. So never compare what you are doing in your training with what someone else is doing as your goals and workouts will vary.  Since most triathletes with a swimming background normally do not ask this question, this entry will focus on two types of athletes. The first athlete is someone who has little to no swimming experience and is trying to complete their first triathlon and the other is the athlete who has done triathlons and is looking to improve their swim and want to move up in the placing of their age-group or trying to improve their personal record (PR).
                My first tip for anyone is to get in the water now. If you put the time in early on, then you will have greater success in your training and you can focus more on your endurance and speed later in the season instead of just getting into shape or attempting a quick build up at the end of the season to reach your goals. Waiting for a couple weeks or months before your event will only leave you scrambling to get to the level you need to reach to achieve your goals, but is also setting yourself up for failure. Always plan for success, do not set yourself up for failure. You will feel better about your training and have more confidence going into your race.
                Whether you are a first time triathlete trying to improve your swim to complete a race or you have done several triathlons and are just trying to improve your PR, try to find a masters swim team to swim with. A masters swim team is similar to an age-group team, but for adults. In a masters team you will find similar athletes with similar goals. They can assist you in your training and give tips on how to train, along with helping you with your technique. A couple things to look for when looking for a masters swim team. First, look for a team that has a good reputation (you can ask a fellow triathlete or swimmer friend) and has a coach on deck. Some are athlete run and the duties of writing the practices will rotate through the certain team members and will be in the water training, so you may not receive the attention and consistent progression you are looking for. When looking at the masters program, make sure they have a lane for your ability level (beginner, intermediate, etc) that will teach you to swim and will help you meet your needs. Check with the team for private lessons or group lessons that you can take or if they have a suggestion of a local organization that can help. These can be great options as good lessons will be based off the progress of the group or the individual and not just following a plan that is one size fits all. In these settings you will receive more individual attention which will improve your learning curve.  If you are taking group or individual lessons, don’t rely solely on the lessons to get better as many times you may only take a class once a week. If you only swim once a week, you will not improve at a rate that will meet your needs. In addition, lessons are designed with a strong focus on technique and will make you a good technical swimmer for a short distance such as a 25 or a 50, but the lessons alone will not build you up to the distance or fitness level you will need for your race. Get out and practice what you have learned in the lessons either on your own or in a combination with a masters program. They only way to get better is by putting in the time. Ask the coach or instructor teaching the lessons for “homework,” practices you can do on your own outside of the lessons.
                If you don’t have the option for a masters swim team, there are couple simple of tips on how to structure your workout that can help. First, always start with a warm up. The warm up will be different for everyone. An example is, if you are an Olympic distance swimmer, you may warm up 2000-3000 yards before you really get started on your workout. For a beginner, that can more be an entire workout.  So don’t base your warm up off of what someone else does. It is up to your ability. It may be as short as doing 100-300 yards for the initial warm up and that is fine.
                Next I would get in a drill set or a secondary warm up. If you are doing more of a recovery day, this can be a longer set or even the main set. If the drill set takes up a larger portion of the practice, then the initial warm up can be shortened as the drills will accomplish the same as the initial warm up. If you are a beginner swimmer, you can start off with the drilling as the main warm up, doing sets of 25’s, 50’s or 100’s to reinforce good technique. As part of the drill set/secondary warm up mix in some build ups or faster swimming to get the body ready for the main set. These are very similar to doing strides when running. When doing the build ups or faster swimming, don’t swim any faster than what you can do to maintain good technique. Don’t swim sloppy, have bad technique, and become short and choppy.  Focus on your technique but don’t try to be so perfect when swimming fast that you are focusing on every little placement and pull of the hand that you are not swimming any faster than you would in warm ups. One tip I always tell swimmers to focus on is big fast strokes and to try and swim taller than then are. Example would be if you are 5’ 10”, try to swim like you are 6’4.”
                Next have a main set, your main focus of the day, the number one objective you are trying to achieve in the workout. No matter what you are doing I would encourage you to have a focus for every workout, even if it is longer swimming so it becomes more than just garbage yardage. This will give you something to focus on while you swim, which will help keep you motivated and make the practice seem like it goes a little faster. This could be something as simple as focusing on a high elbow catch on your pull or making sure you breathe to your week side by breathing every 3 or on every other length. If your goal for the main set is to build up to a certain distance so that you can complete the swim portion of your race, you can break that distance up and take short breaks and over time swim longer and longer. If you are trying to complete the distance, build up to longer than the distance you are going to be swimming. A pool has many walls, but open water does not. Even if you are quick off your walls you are still getting a short break after each length. If your swim is a 400 meter swim and you swim in a 25 yard pool, I would suggest trying to build up to a 600-800 yard swim. This will not only get you used to swimming the distance, but it will build your confidence for the swim as you have completed a distance farther than you will be racing. Being able to swim farther than the distance you will race will be good practice as well so when you do race, you will have more energy to bike and run.  If you are trying to improve your swim time to move up in your age group or achieve a new PR, many of the sets can be built around increasing your speed. Doing repeats of 100’s or 200’s faster than your race pace can be beneficial. Doing longer sets of 400’s or 500’s at race pace can help get a feel for your desired speed. But remember, when swimming in a pool the walls will make you faster, so you will want to be a couple seconds faster per 100 then your open water goal pace. Example is, if you are a 1:30 per 100 open water swimmer, your pool pace maybe around 1:28 per 100 for race pace. One tip I encourage everyone to remember is to be patient with your progression and enjoy the process. What I mean by this is, if you are a 1:30 per 100 swimmer and you want to be a 1:10 per 100, don’t write and do your workouts as a 1:10 swimmer. You may see some early results, but in the end, you are trying to swim way past your current abilities and this will only leave you feeling frustrated, tired, and broken down by the time you reach your main race and when you don’t got your goal time in the swim, you will feel as if your race was a disappointment. Set your times in practice to where you are at now. You will see progress in your swimming, you will feel better about your swimming, have more motivation and most likely you will extend your triathlon career by avoiding burn out.
                After the mains set, you may want to add an additional drill set. This can be good to do as you will be reinforcing good technique while you are tired. I will sometimes have swimmers do a set of 50’s working on Distance Per Stroke (DPS), counting the number of strokes per 50 they do and trying to reduce that number on ever 50 as they progress through the set. Again, working on good technique and efficiency while being tired so that when they are racing or getting tired in practice, they will rely on the good technique instead of letting their stroke become sloppy.
                Always finish will a cool down. This will help you feel better for your next workout. If you have a shorter workout where you are working more on sprints, make sure you do a longer cool down. Many times a sprint workout requires a longer cool down then a distance workout does. It does not have to be a longer swim, you can break it down into 25’s with 10-20 seconds rest between each one, this allows you to enjoy the cool down and feeling good about the workout you just completed and you may be more inclined to complete the cool down then if you were doing a straight swim.
                As I mentioned earlier, enjoy the progress and be patient. I feel it is a good thing to try and push yourself and to test your limits, occasionally doing a workout you are not sure if you can do, but understand you cannot do this in every workout. You may see quick results, but by the end of the season you will find yourself frustrated, tired, and wanting to quit the sport. Swimming tends to be the hardest discipline to pick up of all three, but through hard work, focus, patients, and smart training, you can achieve your goals.